Yesterday, I joined tens of thousands of people (perhaps as many as 1.5 million according to some estimates) at the Washington D.C. Tea Party rally to protest the rampant growth of government and runaway federal spending that we have seen over the last nine years.
There were certainly many demonstrators with signs bearing hate, vitriol, and personal attacks against the President (the "liar" epithet being the most common). I have little use for such least common denominator politics. As readers of this blog know (http://freemarkets-freeminds-freesociety.blogspot.com/2008/11/decision-2008.html), I consider the fact that someone like Barack Obama - a member of an ethnic minority, the son of an immigrant, and a child raised by a single parent, can rise to become President a testament to the greatness of this nation. I do not impugn the President's motives nor find him deliberately deceitful (in fact, he is often rather candid about the collectivist agenda he has for this country). Rather, I think he is simply wrong on a number of issues. The President views all issues through a philosophical mind set that it is best to, "spread the wealth around." Through this collectivist lens that insists justice is measured, not by equality of opportunity, but rather by equality of result, it is difficult to comprehend (and perhaps irrelevant), that his plans may come at great cost, both economically and in terms of individual liberty. In fact, it is impossible to have both equality of opportunity AND equality of result. Given equal opportunity, different people will achieve different things based on their different interests, different levels of motivation, and different skills and talents. Therefore, guaranteeing equality of result requires stifling one individual's freedom to achieve for himself (or herself) to benefit of someone else. It is the simple fact that this redistribution of accrued wealth is incompatible with the notion of a free society that the President cannot, or will not understand.
However vitriolic sign-carriers by no means represented the majority of protesters. Most were respectful and carried either Gadsden flags or more substantive, issue-oriented signs. Health Care reform, the skyrocketing deficit, and Cap and Trade were the most common issues and many of the signs were quite clever, pithy, and succinct - distilling an important philosophical point onto a placard. The best of these, in my opinion, was a sign that said, "Save Trees - Stop Printing Money." The demonstrators I spoke with were quite informed and knowledgeable (I had a very detailed and intelligent conversation with a gentleman from Indiana on health care). They were of all ages and all walks of life, including many veterans. One woman was visiting D.C. and didn't know of the event, but joined it when she heard about. I spoke with a few demonstrators, that like me were fed up with both parties for the nine year spending spree our nation has been on. Several had signs or buttons that suggested all incumbents, of both parties, should be tossed out in 2010. Several of the speakers also echoed this theme, that Republicans were equally to blame. The notion that these events are organized by Republican leadership for political purposes to discredit the President is utter nonsense. In fact, there was only one sitting Republican congressmen present (Tom Price, R-GA).
Which brings me to the real explanation behind the tea party phenomenon. This is not strictly partisan (I even talked with a libertarian group promoting and end to the war on drugs) as many of the protesters were fed up with both parties. Although for some the motivation may have been personal, for most it has noting to do with hate for the President. Furthermore, most of the protesters came of their own accord and at their own expense. Rather, this is the culmination of nine years of watching our nation head down the wrong track. For many of the protesters, this begins with the health care entitlement of the Bush administration (Medicare D), No Child Left Behind, the doubling of the national debt under President Bush, and the nearly trillion dollar bailout President Bush signed into law. The breaking point comes when President Obama, who campaigned on change, picks up right where President Bush left off - with an even bigger health care entitlement, another big bailout, government takeover of GM and Chrysler, and projections to double the national debt yet again. As individuals start saving again and as companies seek to cut losses in these difficult economic times, many wonder why our government in Washington shouldn't be doing the same. Aside from the threat to liberty that any expansion of government power poses, the fact that such runaway spending cannot possibly be sustainable is intuitively obvious.
Finally, as a I stood amongst the multitude and added my voice to theirs, I couldn't help but feel very grateful for a country that allowed such a large assembly, at the Capitol, to protest the policies of government and that such a large group could do so peacefully and respectfully. It was a reminder that ours is the greatest nation on Earth.